Nexon has filed suit against the creators of Dark and Darker, alleging stolen assets, and forcing the removal of the game from Steam.

Dark and Darker, a dungeon-based battle royale with a dash of Tarkov, is facing legal trouble after MapleStory makers Nexon filed suit against them. According to a lawsuit, issued by Nexon Korea, Ironmace, the Dark and Darker Developers are threatening “Nexon, the video game industry, and all of the consumers who enjoy playing sophisticated video games.”

The suit, filed on April 14, alleges that two Ironmace employees, Ju-Hyun Choi and Terence Seungha Park, are former Nexon employees, and used source code and assets that originally belonged to Nexon in the development of Dark and Darker. The lawsuit goes on to suggest that Choi was actively recruiting developers from Nexon for Ironmace, while still employed by the latter. 

Dark and Darker kicked off Steam over allegations of stolen assets

Nexon’s chief allegation is that the aforementioned Ironmace employees repurposed assets from a canceled fantasy MMO game in the creation of Dark and Darker. The allegations have already seen Dark and Darker removed from Steam due to the supposed copyright infringement. As a result, Ironmace were forced to release their latest Alpha test via torrent from the game’s Discord

In response to the allegations, Ironmace fired back with receipts, showing that several assets were not from a canceled fantasy MMO, but from the Unreal marketplace. Additionally, they assert that “all other assets game design docs were created in-house.”

In a bizarre twist, a GoFundMe setup for Ironmace’s legal fees was quickly taken down after raising $46,000. The fundraising site had been reportedly set up “prematurely” by an overzealous employee. In a statement, Ironmace clarified that they were “very sorry for the confusion and will take the proper steps to resolve this within the next few hours. We will make another announcement on how the GoFundMe will be handled.”

Bad blood between Nexon and Ironmace

Ironmace’s website reads more like a manifesto than a bio: “We are a merry band of veteran game developers disillusioned by the exploitative and greedy practices we once helped create. We are experts who have worked on many of the biggest hits in Korea.”

“We’ve seen first hand how corporate game companies sell their soul for the easy payday. We are disappointed to see them doubling down on more and more exploitative practices, becoming more like casinos instead of bringing joy to gamers.”

"We are a merry band of veteran game developers disillusioned by the exploitative and greedy practices we once helped create."

Ironmace's About Us section

These sentiments echo what seems to be the crux of the issue. Many of Ironmace’s employees are former Nexon employees. Employers will often have exclusive rights over anything created by an employee while they work at the company. As a result, if any assets were created while Ironmace employees were at Nexon will be Nexon’s property. 

Alternatively, this could be the move of a jilted former employer, jealous of the success of Dark and Darker. Before its removal from Steam, the game had peaked at 69,533 concurrent players, boasts 417,491 members on its Discord, and 265,626 peak viewers on Twitch. And that’s all before the game has even left Alpha.

While Nexon isn’t exactly struggling to find people to play its games — MapleStory reportedly still has around five million subscribers — its recent games haven’t matched the success of its flagship title. Instead, its licended mobile games, such as Blue Archive and KonoSuba: Fantastic Days, are its most successful non-MapleStory titles. 

Ultimately, regardless of the reasoning, Nexon clearly believes its business is threatened by the likes of Dark and Darker and Ironmace. A lawsuit may spell doom for one of the most promising titles in active development before it even hits Beta.